A reader continues the thread:
As a 36-year-old gay man who came of age in the ’90s, and who also happened to be interested in independent film, I was left so cold by cinematic portrayals of gay men in that era. And yeah, don’t get me started on Jeffrey. I once dated a guy who just raved and raved about how much he loved that movie, and when he finally convinced me to watch it with him, I nearly broke up with him right on the spot. How could he and I possibly have anything in common? I drifted towards the edgier stuff, which, somehow, while angrier, was also less overtly gay (more like coded gay). Gregg Araki, Todd Haynes, that sort of thing. I liked it because of what it wasn’t (Jeffrey), but try as I might, I couldn’t get past the fact that most of those movies were just bad.
I was a programmer for a gay and lesbian film festival for a few years in a major city in the early 2000s, and the state of gay cinema depressed the hell out of me.
One in every 30 movies had anything at all I could grasp onto as being interesting, or in any way related to me, but I also soon came to see that’s just art in general. Most of it is bad, aimed at the middle of the road, and not meant to ruffle feathers or be offensive in any way, or worse, have a point of view.
I used to rail against Will & Grace. It perpetuated nasty stereotypes, it was de-sexualized, etc etc. Then I started watching it on syndication a few years ago at night during a particularly rough period of insomnia and realized it was actually hilarious. Karen and Jack are a scream, while Will and Grace, ironically, are both deadweights to that show, totally uninteresting. But comedy and stereotypes are always how minorities have ingratiated themselves into society. If you can get past how utterly stereotyped it actually is, you might allow yourself to be amused by it.
The older I’ve gotten the less and less I want anything to actually be about being gay. I much more readily appreciate entertainment that skillfully weaves a gay perspective into something else. As another reader pointed out, both Six Feet Under and The Wire had wonderfully and fully realized gay characters that were realistic, complex, and banal all at the same time. I think that speaks far more powerfully to the gay experience than any show that purports to be about the gay experience. My life as a gay man is not about being gay. It’s about all the interactions I have with all kinds of people and contexts everyday. I just happen to be a gay person doing it.
Another with experience in the area:
Thank you for your discussion about gays and films, as I find it very fascinating. Perhaps I can add some perspective on the issue as I was the operations manager for a gay and lesbian film festival here in Washington for almost 10 years.
I agree, many of the films we showed were cringe worthy, stereotypical or had ridiculous plots. Often times the acting was worse than wooden, in the direction amateurish. Nonetheless, over a ten day period, we would sell over 20,000 tickets. Partly that is because audiences were so hungry to see images of themselves on the big screen. Remember, it wasn’t until the late ’90s where regularly saw gay and lesbian characters in mainstream movies and TV. Where else could we find ourselves anywhere and be able to watch them in a safe place? For decades, gay characters have been presented as evil, perverted, or ended up dead. You cannot underestimate the importance of seeing our stories being told by our people on the big screen, especially for people who’ve been fed a steady diet that they are perverted or unwanted.
For minorities within the gay community this was even more important. If we showed a film that featured primarily black actors I can assure you the audience would be packed filled with blacks, and often times that was the only film they would come out to see. Movies from Asia were seen primarily by Asian audiences. Lesbians flocked to movies about lesbians.
Furthermore, there were indeed some films that were actually very done. Some of the very best films we ever showed were documentaries, and these told our stories in moving ways. If you missed those docs you really missed a major cultural impact, and I’m sure you missed important moments in our histories.
Our filmfest, along with the dozens of other filmfest held across the United States and the world, provided opportunities for up-and-coming filmmakers. Without our filmfests, there would be almost no opportunities for their films to be shown anywhere. We created a market for gay and lesbian films where there was none before. By creating that market we encouraged and nurtured young directors and filmmakers, who otherwise had no outlets for their talents. You have to start somewhere and we gave many filmmakers that critical boost early in their career.
Over the years the quality of the films dramatically increased. If you think the films are bad today you should’ve seen what was being shown in the early ’90s. Back then, there was very little to choose from and what was out there was poorly done. I believe that the role of these gay and lesbian film fests around the world played a significant part in increasing the general level of filmmaking.
If you want better filmmaking as an art form then you have to become a patron. It’s always easy to sit on the sidelines and criticize that no one is doing good work. But I can assure you, if no one supports an art form, no good work will ever arise. We need audiences and we need people to support the art, or else it will surely never improve. This is a virtuous cycle, and by being a patron you can be a part of it. Just being part of the audience helps these from the filmmakers immeasurably. If you can take on the role of being a true patron of the arts then quality filmmaking will be happen even faster.